Gay Men Experience Institutionalized Discrimination

Nathan Crites-Herren
The Paw Print

For many, the act of donating blood is as simple as rolling up a sleeve.  But not for gay men, who have been barred from giving blood since 1983 due to a FDA mandate.
The ban on gay men donating blood is a product of the HIV scare within the GLBT community during the early 1980s. At the time, blood testing for infectious agents like HIV was unreliable and in-conclusive at best, causing great concern from scientists and health professionals regarding the security of the nation’s blood supply.   
Due to the slow response from the FDA to get at-risk HIV positive donors out of the donating pool, the early 1980s saw thousands of hemophiliac patients die from receiving tainted and infected donated blood.  Among other issues, the infected blood was not able to form clots, which are crucial to the survival of hemophiliacs who can’t form clots from their own blood.
The potential mass contamination of the nation’s blood supply by an almost un-detectable virus prompted FDA scientists to mandate a lifelong ban on those involved in male to male sexual intercourse from ever donating blood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, throughout the 1980s gay males living in the United States were the most at risk for transmitting HIV.  This combined with sciences in-ability to effectively detect the virus in blood left the FDA with little option but to enact the ban.
A little over 30 years later the controversial and discriminatory ban still stands.  All this, despite a 2010 Government panel  statement released by the New York Times admitting that due to drastic blood screening improvements, viable reasons for exclusion of gay men from donating blood are lacking scientific backing and are at best “suboptimal.”
With the advent of mapping the human genome, scientist also discovered a way to map genomes of viruses and bacteria. As a result, a very effective technique to test blood for any virus was developed known as nucleic acid testing (NAT).  According to Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, NAT is able to detect viruses within the blood with supreme certainty, eliminating the chance that a virus might find its way into the national blood supply.  “We need to be guided by science, the ban of gay men from donating blood has no relevance to a healthy blood supply, the motives are purely political, not scientific,” said Caplan.
Clearly, science has spoken; yet policy makers choose not to follow its findings, instead the homophobic and ignorant attitudes of past generations have planted themselves in the seat of power, leaving gay men marginalized.
“Risky sexual behavior” is how the FDA defines male on male intercourse in their information packet handed out to potential blood donors.  Basically meaning that male to male anal intercourse with or without the use of a condom could increase the chance for the transmission of the HIV virus.  However, gay sex does not cause the spread of the HIV virus, unprotected sex is the cause of its spread.
The Gay male community should not be continually blamed for the spread of HIV, this only conveniently places the blame on a community that is already extremely marginalized. Dialogue concerning HIV needs to look beyond the fascination with gay males, and instead focus on the prevention of HIV throughout society.
The FDA’s stance blatantly displays institutionalized discrimination against gay men.  For example, male to female anal or vaginal intercourse is just as “risky,” and not to mention prostitutes who frequently have unprotected anal and vaginal sex.  The FDA considers these behaviors to be acceptable for the donation of blood, only restricting the donor with those behaviors to a fairly short waiting period of 12 months, so there blood will be considered safe for donation. In fact many GLBT activists support a similar clause to be adopted for gay men who have had unsafe or unprotected sex, allowing them to donate 12 months after those behaviors occurred.
Essentially, the science of healthy blood is being ignored by the FDA in favor of a discriminatory policy that qualifies healthy blood based on sexual orientation, not on behaviors, which are separate of sexual orientation. Gay men and any other sexual orientations can chose to be responsible with their sexual activity or not, meaning that “risky sexual behavior” is not confined to a certain sexual orientation as the FDA continues to claim.
A healthy supply of blood is paramount for a functioning medical system, and the donation of blood is a very honorable and selfless act.  But, when outdated homophobic stereotypes are used to justify the exclusion of gay men from blood donation, we have to question the validity of the FDA and their regulations.  This exclusion of gay men only further drags the state of humanity down vicious cycle of hate and oppression, which affects us all straight, bisexual, gay or trans-gender.
Next time you decide to donate blood be proud of your sacrifice, but understand that while you enjoy the right to donate, others just as deserving are left behind due to institutionalized discriminatory policies which are motivated by fear and homophobia.  One day, we will live in a society that accepts the healthy blood of all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, but first we must confront those in power demanding a lasting and permanent change. is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet